It was my first time in Greece. I studied Classical History and this year I also
visited Italy, Turin, on my first project as a team leader. I didn’t plan it – I just
accepted what opportunities came my way, but now I’ve finally visited the two
countries where my studies were focused. It’s strange how things work out.

Florina is a small town in the mountainous northwest of mainland Greece, just
a short distance from the Macedonian border. It was Autumn-time and the
undulating landscape was generously dusted with the paprika shades of
transitioning oak and chestnut. Disembarking the coach, our lungs were filled
with the inimitable crispness of mountain air. It was my kind of place.

Each project offers something a little different. This time, there were only two
participating groups; the host organisation, Active Youths of Florina, and
Momentum World. What’s more, the UK participants, ten in total, were
primarily from Tokko Youth Space, a flourishing youth centre in Luton, with
its director, Andy Calvert, accompanying myself as team leader.

Virtual Town to Real Town was the flagship project to begin building a
relationship between Tokko and Momentum World. Over the eight days
together, Andy and I developed a good collaborative relationship, so hopefully
you can keep your eyes open for more Tokko participants down the line!

The project itself was orientated around the question of ‘what makes a
community?’. The physical elements (culture, environment and public services)
were explored in some detail, with the gaps in between (the human element of
society) naturally slipping into place as they became self-evident, through day
trips and interactions with the locals.

The Greek participants acted largely as cultural facilitators rather than equal
participants, which in some ways limited the potency of the exchange’s
potential. It created a strange atmosphere which, alongside other elements,
resulted in something that felt like a school trip, with the children testing the
boundaries of our teachers’ authority.

This was most unusual for me and not something I had experienced before. In
the end, the behaviour of one individual in particular became genuinely
dangerous. It was an event which forced me to step up and clearly redefine
what behaviour would not be tolerated on our projects.

My approach as team leader in the past had been to treat participants like
adults, and typically they would flourish with that trust and responsibility.
Unfortunately this was not the case with some of the UK participants in
Florina, at least not to begin with.

My lax approach to discipline could’ve ended very badly. I only percieved the
value of authority through the void left by its absence. Once I’d reestablished
the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, once I’d restricted the freedom of the
participants, and arguably, once I’d put into place the sort of hierarchy system
that they were accustomed to from years in the UK education system,
everything ran much more smoothly.

I also strongly believe that the participants enjoyed themselves more once they
had less freedom and personal responsibility, something the Orwellian in me
finds a little disturbing!

Nevertheless, that is what it took to keep the project on track, and in the end we
produced a blog of real educational value on the town of Florina. I witnessed a
definite transformation in certain members of the group. The most disruptive
elements became the greatest successes in a way, and redirecting their focus
away from distracting the others allowed everyone to work more effectively
and get the most from the project.

As a final note, I’d like to offer a shout-out to the participants that never
required a harsh word, always gave their all, flourished in the international
setting and are destined to make a good impact wherever they find themselves
in the future, for it these individuals who are often overlooked when other
actors claim centre stage.

by Joseph